Sunday, October 12, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 11 — An anti-American cleric, whose forces clashed on Thursday with American soldiers and killed two of them, has proclaimed his own government in Iraq.

The move failed to produce any signs of popular support on Saturday but did appear to notch up his defiance of the American-led occupation.

Mainstream Iraqi leaders roundly condemned the announcement by the cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. The Baghdad City Council denounced it, as did members of the Iraqi Governing Council, the overall leadership body appointed by the United States.

Mr. Sadr, 30, is evidently challenging the authority of the Governing Council while trying to build a following among poor and alienated Iraqis among the Shiites Muslims, who make up a majority of the country's population.

"We don't think Mr. Sadr is serious about what he's going to do," Iyad Allawi, president of the council, told reporters here. "This council is legitimate."

At the same news conference, Adel Abdul Mahdi, another council member, said, "In our opinion, the Governing Council is the representative of the Iraqi people at this time."

Mr. Mahdi is also a senior member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by clerics more moderate than Mr. Sadr and who, in fact, have criticized him in the past.

Mr. Sadr is the son of a revered Shiite cleric who was killed in 1999, many believe on Saddam Hussein's orders. He made his announcement during his weekly sermon on Friday in Kufa, near Najaf, a city south of Baghdad considered holy by the Shiites.

Not saying anything, just pointing it out.

Well, one thing: this just isn't gonna end any time soon.

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